Evidence for Concrete but Not Abstract Representation of Length During Spatial Learning in Rats

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In 4 experiments, rats had to discriminate between the lengths of 2 objects of the same color, black or white, before a test trial with the same objects but of opposite color. The experiments took place in a pool from which rats had to escape by swimming to 1 of 2 submerged platforms. For Experiments 1 and 2, the platforms were situated near the centers of panels of 1 length, but not another, that were pasted onto the gray walls of a square arena. The acquired preference for the correct length was eliminated by changing the color of the panels. In Experiment 3, the platforms were situated near the middle of the long walls of a rectangular pool, and in Experiment 4 they were situated in 1 pair of diagonally opposite corners of the same pool. Changing the color of the walls markedly disrupted the effects of the original training in both experiments. The results indicate that rats represent the length of objects not by their abstract, geometric attributes but in a more concrete fashion such as by a mental snapshot or by the amount of color stimulation they provide.

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